HOUSTON – In 2019, the West Loop between the Katy Freeway and the Southwest Freeway was named the most congested highway segment in the state of Texas, and now in the country, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. The ongoing intricate, mega-sized project to rebuild the West Loop/Southwest Freeway interchange is aimed to help alleviate some of that congestion while also improving safety along this stretch of road.
Here are some facts regarding the project:
- The budget for this project is $259 million.
- Construction began on September 16, 2017.
- The project will be complete in 2024.
- The project is being completed in seven phases. The phased approach is necessary because some direct connectors need to be built before other phases can be linked to them. It also provides a minimum amount of upheaval to traffic.
- There are early completion incentives built into the construction contract to promote completion ahead of schedule. Conversely, there are monetary disincentives for late completion.
- As much as possible, main lane closures will be planned for overnight hours and on weekends. This will help to minimize the impact on traffic during days and hours of heaviest congestion.
As Houston’s population continues to grow, the aging infrastructure around the city needs to be expanded and updated to keep up with the growing demands on our transportation system. Here are the main goals of the project
- Widen all connector ramps to two lanes.
- Increase sight distances and vertical clearances on the interchange.
- Implement a new traffic flow design that will minimize the amount of weaving on this interchange. Currently, vehicles weave in and out of lanes a great deal as drivers jockey for position to reach their desired exit or entrance ramp. The current weaving problem at this interchange is a significant safety risk to drivers and their passengers.
- Add shoulders to the West Loop main lane bridge over the Southwest Freeway.
- Add detention ponds west of the West Loop, between the Southwest Freeway and Westpark Drive. This will help to mitigate flooding in the area.
The improvements listed above will bring the interchange up to current design standards. While increasing the speed and efficiency of traffic flow through the interchange, congestion along both the West Loop and Southwest Freeway will be significantly reduced. The interchange will be much safer, too, with added shoulders and increased sight distances. These things, along with reconfigured lanes to decrease weaving in and out of merge lanes, will help to prevent crashes in the future.
To date, these are some of the major milestones already completed on the project:
- Southwest Freeway northbound connector ramp to West Loop southbound main lanes
- Southwest Freeway northbound connector ramp to West Loop northbound main lanes. (As of May, 2022-- only one lane is open on the connector ramp. Before the project ends, TXDOT will fully open the connector ramp into the Galleria.)
- Southwest Freeway entrance ramps headed to both northbound and southbound main lanes from Westheimer.
- West Loop southbound connector ramp that takes you to the Southwest Freeway northbound lanes near the Greenway Plaza.
- The Fournace entrance ramp to the West loop southbound main lanes opened May 2021.
What is TXDOT working on today?:
- Up next, is the demolition of the Southwest Freeway southbound connector ramp to the West Loop southbound main lanes towards Meyerland and Bellaire-- which is why TxDOT needed to close the Southwest Freeway at 610 for three weekends in a row during the month of May. Crews need to safely tear down the connector ramp and in order to do so, they need all the space they can get.
- Also, on May 6 at 9 p.m., crews closed the I-69 Southwest Freeway southbound exit ramp to Chimney Rock Road and it will be in place for about two months. Traffic will take the Fountain View exit ramp, U-turn at Fountain View onto IH 69 northbound feeder, to reach Chimney Rock Road.
Additional information for this project can be found at the Texas Department of Transportation project page.
Ultimately, the goal of this project is to keep Houston moving. With the city’s growing population comes a growing strain on our area freeways. The construction headaches many of us face today will hopefully prevent a far greater number of headaches for decades to come.